Women in the Post-Apocalypse: An Interview with Kristen Simmons

This year’s Digital Literature Review focuses on the post-apocalyptic, including the ways gender is depicted in post-apocalyptic stories. Time and time again, women in post-apocalyptic narratives are forced back into patriarchal roles after catastrophic events. Young adult fiction writer Kristen Simmons deliberately writes stories that place young women in active, empowered roles. An award-winning author who lives in Cincinnati, Simmons has written six books and has a seventh coming out this fall. 

Simmons will read from her novel The Glass Arrow tonight at 7:30 in the Student Center Ballroom. The Glass Arrow tells the story of Aya, a girl on the run from men who hunt women and sell them at auction. 

In the interview below, Simmons talks about The Glass Arrow, about reproductive rights, about young adult fiction, and about why post-apocalyptic fictions feel timely right now. 

What inspired you to write this book? What sources did you draw inspiration from? 

I had many inspirations for this book, including Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and my own experiences as a woman. Writing has always been a way of processing events in my life, and so the beginnings of Glass Arrow are rooted in my childhood, and my transformation to teenage life, when I quickly realized the beliefs that I could do anything would be stunted by a glass ceiling, and a societal shift of values. Girls are often given the message that worth is defined by physical beauty, and how others perceive them. I wanted to write about that world, and about a girl trying to break out of it.

Why do you think there is trend in our media towards post-apocalyptic/dystopian themes and worlds? 

I think there are many writers, like me, who see dystopia as a way of examining current events. I never feel like I’m writing about the future–I feel like I’m writing an altered view of the present. Misogyny is not a concept defined by time; the media is reporting on this kind of oppression every day.

Did Aya (or other characters) ever point you to a different direction in the story than you had planned?

Oh yes! Without giving away too many spoilers, there was definitely one scene in the book I did not expect at all. I bawled when I wrote it.

Why did you focus this story on women and reproductive rights? 

Because I believe this is a current issue we’re still facing. If we don’t keep talking about it and challenging the existing constraints of our society, we’re going to find ourselves stuck, or reverting. We all need to make our voices heard. The Glass Arrow is how I’m sharing my story, and my feelings on the issue.

Why did you decide to write in the young adult genre? 

Writing to a young adult audience has never been a deliberate decision of mine. I always write the story in my head, and it often ends up that those characters are in their teen years, a time when people first experience true independence. My stories always seem to gravitate toward characters forced to make decisions they’ve never had to contemplate before–they’re young on the page, but hopefully feel relatable to any age reader.

Why did you pick a post-apocalyptic world as the setting of this novel?

I see a post-apocalyptic setting not as a future possibility, but my own processing of the present. Dystopia is the lens through which I view the world now, as is. We all process experiences in different ways, but when I think of many of the things we are facing today, I see a world in disarray, and fierce, tenacious survivors carving their way through it.

Can you tell us a little bit about your new book? 

I’m so thrilled to say that Pacifica, my next book, will be out on March 6th. It’s about a pirate girl and the son of the president, thrown together to search for their missing friend in a trash-filled world after the last of the polar ice caps have melted. Due to the environmental impact, there is tremendous strain among the people in this story–a dynamic inspired by my grandmother’s stories from her internment in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. Because of that, this book is very personal. I hope people enjoy reading it!

Original interview done by Bailey Shrewsbury.

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